The Best Folk Music Female Artists You Need to Know

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


We’ve rounded up the best female folk musicians you need to know. These artists are making some of the most beautiful and moving music today.

Joan Baez

Her music

Joan Baez’s music career started at the young age of eighteen, when she released her debut album. The Joan Baez Album peaked at number fifteen on the Billboard pop album chart and remained on the chart for thirty-six weeks, going Gold in December 1960. The album is notable for featuring the first recording of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. This was closely followed by her second album, issued in early 1961. Like its predecessor, it reached the top fifteen of the pop chart and went Gold.

Her impact

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the folk music revival was in full swing, Joan Baez was one of its most visible and influential figures. A gifted singer with a clear, pure voice, Baez was often compared to her contemporary Barbra Streisand, although her repertoire was entirely different. While Streisand specialized in show tunes and popular standards, Baez favored traditional folk songs and protest material. She also had a strong commitment to social and political causes, which she often expressed through her music. In the 1960s, she became an outspoken advocate for civil rights and anti-war causes, and her music took on a more overtly political edge.

Despite her political outspokenness, Baez remained a popular recording artist throughout the 1960s and 1970s. She continued to record folk standards and traditional material, but also branch out into pop, rock, and even gospel music. In the 1980s and 1990s, she scaled back her recording activity somewhat, but remained an active concert performer. In recent years, she has returned to her folk roots, releasing a series of well-received albums of traditional material.

Baez is widely respected for both her musical achievements and her commitment to social causes. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

Joni Mitchell

Her music

Joni Mitchell is a Canadian singer-songwriter who rose to prominence in the 1960s with her unique blend of folk, rock, and jazz. Her music has been highly influential, particularly on the singer-songwriter and folk-rock genres. Over the course of her career, Mitchell has released more than 20 albums and has been awarded eight Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. In 2019, she was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

Mitchell’s lyrics are often personal and introspective, dealing with topics such as love, loss, and heartache. She has also been outspoken on social and political issues throughout her career, penning songs about everything from the environment to relationships to the Vietnam War.

While her early work was primarily folk-oriented, Mitchell’s later albums saw her experimenting with different musical styles, including jazz and pop. This diversity is one of the things that makes her music so unique and enduring. If you’re a fan of folk music or are simply looking for something different, Joni Mitchell is definitely an artist worth checking out.

Her impact

In the 1970s, Mitchell’s lyrics reflected her disdain for conventional relationships and her penchant for finding meaning in nature. “I think that my strongest work has come out of really broken times in my life,” she told Rolling Stone in 1979. “I find more clarity then, more beauty. I can be objective about the garbage and the flowers at the same time.”

Mitchell’s breakthrough album, 1968’s Song to a Seagull, was recorded under the name of folk singer Judy Collins and featured little more than Mitchell’s fragile voice and acoustic guitar. The album’s breathy renditions of traditional folk tunes like “Both Sides, Now” and original compositions like “Urge for Going” made it clear that a new talent had arrived on the music scene.

Judy Collins

Judy Collins is one of the most well-known and respected folk music artists of our time. She has been recording music for over 50 years and is still going strong. Judy Collins is known for her beautiful voice and her unique interpretations of traditional folk songs.

Her music

Her music spans more than five decades, with 1964’s “Maid of Constant Sorrow” introducing her remarkable voice to the world. Judy Collins has inspired other artists with her interpretations of traditional folk songs, as well as modern works by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman and Joni Mitchell. She’s also been a pop success, with her 1967 version of Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” hitting No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

Collins’ achievements go beyond her music: she’s an accomplished painter and author, and she was instrumental in getting the U.S. government to declare the month of October National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here are 10 of her best songs.

Her impact

Judy Collins has been a popular figure in the folk music scene since the 1960s. She is best known for her clear, powerful voice and her ability to translate complex emotions into song. As a songwriter, she has always been interested in exploring the human experience, and her songs often deal with difficult subjects such as mental illness, addiction, and violence. Judy Collins’ impact on the folk music scene has been profound, and she is widely respected by both fans and critics alike.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris is an American singer, songwriter, and musician. She has won multiple Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008. Harris is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Emmylou Harris was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on April 2, 1947.

Her music

Her music has been described as a ” mix of country, folk, bluegrass, pop, rock & roll”. Harris was born in Birmingham, Alabama and GPA in Nashville, Tennessee where she joined the Wilburn Brothers’ travelling show and then Dolly Parton’s band as a backup singer. She recorded her first solo album, Gliding Bird, in 1968; Flowers in 1972; Elite Hotel in 1975; Pieces of the Sky and Profile in 1976; Luxury Linerand Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town in 1977; Blue Kentucky Girlin 1979; Cimarronin 1980; Evangelinein 1981; Last Datein 1982 (a duet album with Mark O’Connor); White Shoesin 1983; The Ballad of Sally Rosein 1985 (with songwriter Paul Kennerley); Thirteenin 1986; Angel BandThe Waltz Queenand Brand New Dancein 1990.

Her impact

The highly influential singer has been active since the early 1970s, winning 13 Grammy Awards, and is known for her work in country and folk music. Harris is considered one of the most important female artists in country music history, and her influence has been cited by some of the genre’s most successful musicians. Emmylou Harris was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Gillian Welch

Gillian Welch is an American singer-songwriter who performs with her musical partner, David Rawlings. Welch’s unique style of music has been influenced by a variety of genres, including folk, country, and bluegrass. She has released seven studio albums, all of which have received critical acclaim.

Her music

Welch’s music is contemporary folk with a sometimes vintage feel that is frequently compared to Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and other better-known acts in the genre. Welch often writes about old-timey America, drugs, love, and loss.

Her impact

Welch’s impact has been acknowledged by some of her contemporaries and predecessors in the folk tradition. Emmylou Harris said, “Gillian’s a true original in a world of copycats… She has given a voice to an amalgam of American music that was lurking in the shadows, waiting to be discovered by someone with the talent and soul and sense of history to do it justice. And that is exactly what she has done.” Emmylou Harris would later record Gillian Welch’s song “Orphan Girl” for her 2017 album, The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris: An All-Star Concert Celebration.
In his review of The Harrow & The Harvest, which was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Folk Album, Rolling Stone writer Will Hermes said, “Welch’s music can come off as rootsy pastiche – her repertoire includes old-time murder ballads (two on this album), early blues tunes (one) and original compositions based on those forms… But there’s an underlying seriousness and integrity that gives even her simplest songs heft.”

Similar Posts